The exasperation of Robert Carpenter: A WG Grace story

The exasperation of Robert Carpenter: A WG Grace story

1872. WG Grace had just embarked upon his outrageous decade, one in which he set absurd records and milestones. His paths crossed with Robert Carpenter, a champion of the yesteryear. Abhishek Mukherjee narrates a tale from an encounter on July 8.

In the period of time between Fuller Pilch and WG Grace, there were few who matched the prowess of Robert Carpenter of Cambridgeshire with bat. Carpenter’s Cambridgeshire colleague Thomas Hayward(not to be confused with Tom Hayward of Surrey) was perhaps the only one.

The Doctor himself spoke highly of Carpenter in Cricket: “He may be safely placed as one of the finest of our great batsmen … I have rarely seen a batsman who watched the ball so carefully, and his back play and patience were exceptionally good. The bowler had all his work cut out to get Carpenter’s wicket, whatever the state of the ground… Batsman after batsman was beaten on a kicking wicket in some of the matches Carpenter played … breaking the hearts of many a twenty-two, who sawvictory slipping out of their grasp owing to his patience and coolness.”

The story, however, is not of Carpenter the batsman. This is about a quadragenarianwho was every bit of the batsman he used to be, but not as fit as he used to be. In his prime Carpenter manned point skilfully — a position later glorified by the splendour of WG.However, he was not the same fielder anymore.

Grace, on the other hand, had alreadyemerged from his illustrious elder brother’s shadow. Not only was he a ruthless striker of the ball, he also sent fielders running in an era when all-run fours were way more common than today.

Thus, the Players had a sad day at work when Grace got his 117 for Gentlemen. The Players were not a happy lot that day, but it was probably worse for their two old men — Southerton and Carpenter. While Southerton spent a lot of time at the bowling crease, wheeling down 42.2 four-ball overs, Carpenter had to fetch the leather orb many a time.

Thankfully, the Gentlemen had a small target, which they chased down easily. Carpenter didn’t have to spend long hours at the field.

There was more good news, too: “I have had about enough of fielding out to Mr Grace this week; but thank goodness I shall be on his side the next match.”

Both Grace and Carpenter (and Southerton) were to feature for a team called ‘England’ (Rest of England, technically speaking) against a combined team of Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire.

England batted first, and WG set off almost immediately. He would eventually carry his bat for 170 (out of a total of 290), and Gentlemen would win by 9 wickets. He was in the middle of one of his many great runs, scoring 77, 112, 117, 170*, and 31* in consecutive innings — 507 runs at 169.

Even that aside, this was one of Grace’s finest. To quote from his biography co-authored by Lord Hawke, Lord Harris, and Home Gordon, it was “an excellent display without giving a single chance, and more than one good judge of the game declared that a finer innings was never played.”

Carpenter joined him at 77 for 2, and the pair added exactly a hundred in an hour. Carpenter scored 36, and returned amidst warm applause.

“Well, Carpenter, you ought to feel happy today,” observed a colleague.

But Carpenter was far from that: “Feel happy! If I had been in much longer I should have died. It is a deal harder work to be in with him than fielding against him. When you are fielding you do get a rest now and again, but when batting you never do!”

Indeed, there was a salient feature of the partnership, as WG later pointed out: “there were no boundary hits.”

Brief scores:

Gentlemen 338 (WG Grace 117, Monkey Hornby 80, William Yardley 83; Alfred Shaw 4 for 93, James Southerton 3 for 91) and 13 for 1 beat Players 168 (Richard Humphrey 96; Edward Brice 4 for 70, David Buchanan 4 for 48) and 182 (Isaac Walker 4 for 51) by 9 wickets.

England 290 (WG Grace 170; Martin McIntyre 3 for 47, Roger Iddison 3 for 26) and 56 for 1 beat Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire 175 (Thomas Bignall 74; James Southerton 5 for 66, James LillywhiteJr 4 for 37) and 168 (James Southerton 7 for 84, James LillywhiteJr 3 for 48) by 9 wickets.

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